The Apocalypse is upon us, darlings! And I don’t mean our current global warming crisis, or just, literally everything on the news. I’m talking about the mini-series adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s beloved classic Good Omens! Coming to Amazon Prime Video on May 31, we were, ahem, blessed with the opportunity to review it for you! And spoiler free at that!
Good Omens describes the events leading up to Armageddon and the attempts of an angel, Aziraphale (played by Michael Sheen), and a demon, Crowley (played by David Tennant), to thwart it. Also attempting to prevent the end of the world are the bumbling “Witchfinder Private” Newt Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall) and “professional descendant”/witch Anathema Device (Adria Arjona). Also included in this chaotic cast of characters are an order of Satanic Nuns (the Chattering Order of St. Beryl), various demons, angels, discerning ducks, the eleven year old Antichrist and his childhood posse, and of course Frances McDormand as the voice of God/the Narrator (which duh, I’m pretty sure Frances McDormand might actually be God).
Particular standouts are, of course, Tennant and Sheen as our demon and angel. Forced into an unlikely alliance (being the only Earth-side representatives from each side) that becomes a friendship, Tennant and Sheen have a sweet and undeniable chemistry. Tennant has always excelled at playing the rakish and charming, well, devil. But Sheen is the perfect foil for him as the fussy and nervous Aziraphale. The ease at which their banter flows really does make it seem as if they have been friends since the dawn of time.
My other favorite performances include Nina Sosanya as Sister Mary Loquacious, Josie Lawrence as the prophet Agnes Nutter, and Amma Ris as the sole female member of the Antichrist’s “gang,” Pepper. The ladies killed it, y’all. Special attention must also be given to Jon Hamm as the Archangel Gabriel. My favorite Hamm is a comedic Hamm, and he really nails the tone of the arrogant angel here. (And he is also a huge fan of the original book!) But also, honestly, with a cast that includes the likes of Michael McKean (as Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell), Miranda Richardson (as Madame Tracy), Benedict Cumberbatch (as Satan), and even a cameo by Nick Offerman, you just really can’t go wrong. They are all stellar.
The mini-series was adapted entirely by co-author Neil Gaiman himself, so it sticks closely to the original story, with a few key changes. One is the addition of Hamm’s Archangel Gabriel. Gaiman said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that Gabriel was originally going to be in the never-completed sequel to Good Omens (and later, in a never-produced film), so he was excited to be able to include him in this mini-series.
The other key change is that one of the Four Horsemen, Pollution (Pestilence retired with the invention of vaccines — oops, maybe you left too soon Pestilence!), is non-binary! I was pleased at the amount of detail from the book that was able to be included in the final product. (Even the opening credits are chock full of easter eggs from the book that aren’t included in the mini-series’ main plot.)
I will say, though, that one exclusion left me bummed. One of my favorite bits from the book were the Hell’s Angels, a.k.a. the “other” four bikers of the apocalypse, a.k.a. “Grievous Bodily Harm,” “Cruelty to Animals,” “Really Cool People,” and “Treading In Dogsh*t” (formerly “All Foreigners Especially The French,” formerly “Things Not Working Properly Even After You’ve Given Them A Good Thumping,” never actually “No Alcohol Lager,” briefly “Embarrassing Personal Problems,” and finally “People Covered in Fish”). (Dear Mr. Gaiman and the ghost of Terry Pratchett please forgive me/do not haunt me if I left out any of their names.) They were hilarious, especially their explosively fishy end. (The book came out in 1990, so I don’t feel bad about spoilers here.) I was sad to not have them as a counterpoint to the real Horsemen. However, if the biggest complaint I can make is that one gag from an otherwise gag-filled book didn’t make it in the final cut, then I think that speaks to how successful this adaptation was.
Plot-wise, the writing is sharp, funny, and (as to be expected) extremely British. It’s also surprising just how little from the original book needed to be updated in order to fit 2019. Maybe that has to do with the real world feeling like it’s teetering on the brink of collapse. But instead of staring into that abyss, I will just attribute it to their spot-on and extremely clever writing! Gaiman and Pratchett’s versions of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are unique and feel quintessentially a part of our modern world. (Of course Famine is behind both the Diet Industrial Complex and the Fast Food Complex!)
But what really makes a piece like this work (both the series and the novel) is how it manages to maintain the human element. And this is also the central thesis, if you will, of the book and the show — that what makes people special and flawed and messy and brilliant and capable of both ruining and saving the planet is that they are human. Humans contain multitudes, and also the imaginations with which to employ (for better or worse) them. They are dead set on celebrating humans in all of our messed up glory.
Overall, Good Omens is (as previously mentioned) hilarious, the special effects and costuming are outlandish and fun, and Crowley gets his own personal soundtrack — Queen (which is another nod to a running joke from the book). If you are a fan of the book, you will love it, and if you’ve never read the book, well then watch the series and then get thee to a bookstore or a kindle store or what have you and read the source material! But seriously, even if you’ve never read it, heck even if you somehow have never heard the word “apocalypse” before, there is plenty to enjoy, laugh at, and be thrilled by. Praise be!
Also stay tuned to our site because once Good Omens officially drops on Amazon (May 31), we will be providing recaps of all six episodes!